Pires admits French are glad to avoid host nation

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The Independent Football

Robert Pires admitted he was relieved that France will face Greece in the Euro 2004 quarter-finals and not Portugal.

Robert Pires admitted he was relieved that France will face Greece in the Euro 2004 quarter-finals and not Portugal.

Pires, the son of a Portuguese father and a Spanish mother, said he is glad he will not yet have to test the loyalty of his dad, who remained a keen fan of the Portuguese team even when he moved to live in the French town of Rheims. Pires still remembers his father's disappointment when Portugal lost 3-2 to the French in the Euro '84 semi-final in Marseille when Robert was only 11.

France's 3-1 victory over Switzerland in Coimbra on Monday ensured they finished top of Group B and earned what looks to be an easier game with the Greeks, who have never before reached this stage in a major tournament.

Instead it is England who will face the hosts with a place in the semi-final the reward for the winners. Pires said: "My father is very happy for me and for himself. Portugal have qualified, France have qualified and we will now not meet in the quarter-finals and from that point of view it's a perfect game.

"I am very pleased because now I can realise my dream of playing Portugal in the final," said Pires, who has conducted interviews in fluent Portuguese for local journalists.

France will indeed be relieved to have avoided a match with Portugal for another good reason - it gives them a day more to recuperate from what their coach, Jacques Santini, admits has been a bruising tournament.

"The extra day will be very important for us because it has taken a lot out of us physically and emotionally," said Santini, who will leave his post to take charge of Tottenham after the tournament. William Gallas is one injury doubt ahead of the quarter-final with Greece, while defender Willy Sagnol broke his left forearm against Switzerland and is almost certain to miss the rest of the tournament.

On a more positive note the French are delighted that Thierry Henry has started to score again after muted performances against England and Croatia. Henry's two late goals against the Swiss ensured the defending champions would next play a Greece side that are now in uncharted territory.

"It is always better to win than to score but it is even better if you can win and score at the same time," the Arsenal striker said.

Santini admitted that he would not underestimate a Greece team that have proved to be one of the surprise packages of the tournament.

"If they have reached the quarter-finals they must be a good team," he said. "We must remember they beat Portugal in the opening match and also eliminated the Spanish. They are a solid and compact team."

"I must admit that tonight we are relieved," said defender Bixente Lizarazu after Monday's victory over the Swiss.

Midfielder Patrick Vieira added: "Completing this first part of the tournament was exhausting. These three games were really tough and if we want to carry on we'll have to play much better."

After taking an early lead with a Zinedine Zidane header, France could not wrap up the match despite a number of clear chances. Switzerland then equalised with their first goal of the tournament scored by 18-year-old Johan Vonlanthen - the youngest scorer at a European Championship finals. In the second half France virtually gave up the midfield battle and for a while the spectre of another first-round exit loomed.

"France did their duty tonight," Zidane said. "We are through and it's the most important matter."

"I can only agree with what Zizou said," Santini said. "Our goal was to qualify. We have spent a lot of mental and physical energy. By finishing first we are allowed an extra day to rest and it will be welcome."

Goalkeeper Fabien Barthez added: "You can't expect teams to crush others 3-0 in every game any more."